Before we begin this topic of discussion, I must briefly let you all know this will be an opinion/editorial type series I would like to start called Clyde’s Corner. This will be my own internal thoughts and musing regarding a variety of topics. For now I’ll keep it to gaming and see how it does. If everyone likes my unorthodox brain, then I will expand the range of topics. You may agree with my thoughts, you may not, but you will get a rousing and entertaining argument and discussion. Enjoy!
BIG FOUR OR BIG BORE?
In the last 5 years I’ve noticed a rather boring and disturbing trend in the gaming industry. Based on games in recent years it feels like the big time game developers are releasing essentially the same games, year after year, with little to no changes or variety. Some even seem to be recycling features from past games and pasting them on to “new” releases. And yet people continue to flock to them with no thought about how little developers are actually doing. The companies I see as the worst offenders I refer to as the Big Four. The companies in question are Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft, and, to a lesser extent, 2K. With sequel after sequel and a lack of innovation these developers continue to dumb down the gaming market. It seems nothing can save us from copy and paste game design. I could go on in grandiose fashion about the state of gaming, but you guys want hard evidence and facts. Let’s talk sequels, shall we?
One of the best ways for a developer to have success is follow-up a great title with an even better one. Bethesda and Bioware (mostly, we don’t forget Mass Effect 3 or Andromeda) have nailed that formula. Others, like our big four, seem to be suffering from sequel syndrome. A new entry to a series comes literally every year from these guys, at some point you can only make so many sequels and still be interesting. EA has done this with Madden NFL since 2000. 17 straight years of basically the same game. What of Activision? Call of Duty, one of the all time biggest franchises in gaming, has had a new sequel every year since 2005. Granted, they have separate “blocks” of story for each series within the franchise, but they’re all CoD. Then there is the sad story of Ubisoft. They’ve accomplished sequel syndrome with two IP’s. Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. Assassin’s Creed has had an entry every year for 10 years. Far Cry is not as big of an issue, but they’ve had several spin-offs of the main series games that fill in the gaps. Ubisoft published 3 spin-offs alone in 2006. 2K’s most obvious fit of sequel syndrome is the NBA 2K series, which has continued in a similar fashion as Madden NFL, games released every year with few changes. They do have NHL and MLB properties (Their MLB series is the best in my opinion) but none are more glaring than NBA 2K.
COPY AND PASTE
Here’s the part where developers get lazy. So many times it feels like we’re getting the same game with almost no changes. It’s not good in EA’s case when you introduced the most new features to your game 10 years ago. Madden NFL 07 brought a lot to the table in terms of gameplay and features. They did the same in Madden NFL 10, but beyond that little else has changed. Franchise mode, a popular Madden feature, was revamped three times and was not much different. Activision has recycled engines and features in many CoD games. They generally do a good job with story development but the game feels the same. I did not notice many differences personally between Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III, and Infinite Warfare. Ubisoft has actually made less effort in later entries, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate had fewer features than AC Brotherhood, AC3 and AC4 and felt quite boring at times. From what I’ve read about and seen from NBA 2K it changed even less over the years than Madden NFL. EA, however, is by far the worst offender. Since getting the rights from Disney, they have made 2 Star Wars: Battlefront games. They have the same engine and play the same as Battlefield 4 and 1. There’s also less load out and character customization in Battlefront. I’m astonished they can get away with such lazy copy and paste behavior. How can you attract new players if you aren’t innovative or creative? I honestly get turned off by numerous sequels. I think “Why would I play that, it’s the same as the last game?” However, new players may not be the goal.
This is the factor that few gamers consider when evaluating the state of a developer. For our purposes, let me propose to you a quick financial example. These are huge, reputable (for the most part, careful Ubisoft) developers and if they want to innovate, they have to produce incredible games and content. New, groundbreaking games require large expenses while the game is under R&D. This could take quite a long time in some cases so the expense stays on the books and hurts, you guessed it, the bottom line. Sequels still require an expense, but its more cost-effective to pump out a slightly tweaked game than an entirely new IP. Keep in mind companies like EA and Activision are constantly working on multiple games, meaning multiple expenses, not to mention daily administrative expense of running the company, which becomes huge after a year. While game developers create a form of art that many people enjoy and crave innovation in, it’s still a business and they have to look out for themselves. Although, you could also argue that with the large amounts of cash some of these the developers have, there should be room for making new games. For 3 of our 4 there is. The debate is still out on which formula is better, innovation or perpetual releases. That my readers, is for each of you to decide. Feel free to discuss this in the comments.